Getting Fit at Fifty Plus
You don’t have to do a lot, but you do have to be consistent.
Fifty is one of those reflective life milestones where we take stock and make plans. But while you’re double-checking your 401 K for fiscal fitness, don’t forget your physical fitness.
Why is fitness after the age of fifty so important? Beyond being able to continue doing the activities you enjoy, fitness is key to preventing falls and injuries, and minimizing their impact. Consider the common winter hazard of slipping and falling on the ice, for example. According to Dr. Camilla Moore of Bristol Chiropractic, having a strong foundation in the three pillars of fitness — stability, strength and flexibility — can help prevent a disastrous outcome.
Stability gives us control and is important for balance, which we lose as we age. If you have good stability in the first place, you can prevent a fall all together.
Strength determines how well and how much we move. Strong muscles can help prevent a fall, but in case they don’t, you’ll have more muscle mass to cushion your fall. Strengthening muscles and muscle mass around your bones and joints also helps lessen the impact of common aging issues like arthritis and osteoporosis.
Flexibility gives us ease and range of motion. Flexibility is important because in the normal aging process, osteoarthritis restricts motion in the joint and limits the mobility and flexibility of the muscles that control that joint, which then perpetuates the cycle of decreased mobility. Maximizing your flexibility helps lessen the effects of arthritis overall.
WHAT IS YOUR NEXT STEP?
“What you do during the time you set aside for exercise is important, and we need all three components as we age,” Dr. Moore explains. “As we get older, fitness becomes more about maintaining or achieving a quality of life and preventing injury. But you have to move right, before you can move more,” she explains.
To help people “move right,” she developed a fitness approach called PreTrain, which incorporates the three pillars in one program. It’s being used as the exercise component for a cancer research project at the Women’s Medicine Collaborative at Miriam Hospital and has been getting positive evidence-based outcomes. It’s also available as a book
The inspiration for PreTrain came from seeing patients come in with the same injuries over and over. She also saw many people who were nervous about starting a fitness program for fear of injury; she realized there had to be a way to help.
PreTrain combines evidence-based rehabilitation exercises, progressive movement training, and an intense, short-duration fitness routine. It helps improve strength, flexibility and stability and includes exercises that will help people move correctly, prevent injury and address common issues such as incontinence and lower back pain.
So, falls, injuries, broken bones…
Convinced to get fit but not sure where to start? “Begin with your personal idea of what fitness means,” Dr. Moore says. “Think about what you want to be able to do, whether that’s playing with your grandchildren, completing eighteen holes of golf, or running a marathon.”
DR. Moore’s fitness advice for those fifty plus:
If you’re already in an exercise program, make sure it’s balanced with cardio, strength and flexibility. She recommends yoga as a good platform, and there are a range of programs to fit your needs, from chair yoga for older people to a specific program for back strengthening.
If you’re not in a program, just start somewhere. Find something you enjoy doing so you’ll stick with it. Even walking twenty minutes four or five times a week is going to help.
Get professional help. Look to a local gym with knowledgeable trainers, or a functional chiropractor like Dr. Moore who can evaluate you and your needs. They can then help you develop a plan and take the fear out of injury. “You don’t have to commit forever, many gyms have four to six week jumpstart programs. After that you can go on your own.”
Try something new. If you’re bored with your old routine, dancing is a great way to up your cardio. Sign up for a new class like yoga, Pilates or Zumba.
Don’t try too much too soon. This is the biggest pitfall Dr. Moore sees. If you have specific limitations, like high blood pressure, be sure to discuss your fitness plans with your doctor.
Be consistent. You don’t have to do a lot, but you do have to be consistent. Dr. Moore says older patients are her most committed because they’ve seen how fast they lose flexibility and strength when they get out of an exercise routine.
Pay attention to your nutrition to build health, and focus on getting nutrients you need rather than a specific low carb or low fat diet. “You can’t exercise your way out of a bad diet. One of the things I love about Rhode Island is we have a plethora of farms at our disposal,” Dr. Moore says. “There is no excuse for not having fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and fish on your table. Explore your local farmers markets and fish markets for nutrient rich foods in season.” One reliable nutrition website she recommends is nutritionfacts.org.
Advice from a personal trainer for those fifty plus
Adriana Ferns, an N.C.S.F. certified personal trainer at Bristol Total Fitness, is on the same page as Dr. Moore when it comes to balance, agility and strength. She works with a wide range of people, from athletes to patients with Parkinson’s, to help them reach their fitness goals.
If you’re just starting a fitness routine at fifty, Ferns recommends checking in with your doctor first to make sure you’re cleared medically and have no heart or blood pressure issues. You should also have your doctor test your blood for vitamin deficiencies as they (especially a lack of Vitamin D) can make you feel more tired than normal.
Joining a gym and hiring a trainer can help keep you focused and motivated. Working out at home offers too many distractions, and most gyms will offer one free training session to walk you through the equipment. Ferns recommends investing in additional personal training sessions to set up an action plan, learn how to do things safely and get in the groove. Plus, some people respond better if they have someone else holding them accountable.
“I will literally hold your hand through it. I do a functional movement screening to check your movement patterns, check your flexibility and agility, and get a baseline of where you are,” Ferns says. “It helps me see if you’re moving correctly to help prevent injury, and see if you have an issue you’re not aware of. I also do a talk test while you’re doing cardio to see how much you can handle.”
People can get intimidated facing a bank of gym equipment and trying to plan a workout. Ferns will put a customized program together so you’ll know what to do and won’t get bored. A typical program will include working out five to six days a week at least, with cardio three to four times a week plus strength and agility training.
“Strength training is imperative for older people, especially women, because your bone and muscle density is breaking down, leading to osteoporosis. Strength training will slow the process and help keep bones strong. But it’s different than when you were twenty and you’d use heavier weights and do fewer reps. I recommend a more moderate weight where at twelve reps it gets difficult but you’re not straining,”
A newer exercise Ferns recommends is TRX training, a total body workout great for cardio, strength and flexibility. It involves suspension training where you’re working against your own body weight. Your core is engaged the entire time you’re working out. “Lack of core strength is the number one issue I see in older people. TRX helps with stability and mobility; it’s low impact, low cardio, and you control how much you push. The classes are fun and everyone’s working at their own pace,” she says.
A common reaction Ferns hears is people saying they hate the gym. But it’s really that they’re feeling insecure and concerned about not doing it right or looking bad. Another fear people mention to her is being intimidated by other people who look more fit, and she works hard to make clients feel comfortable. “I joke with them and say trust me, that guy on the weights isn’t looking at you, he’s looking at his arms,” she says. “It’s about building confidence.”
Ferns also echoes Dr. Moore’s advice about nutrition and limiting your sugar intake. “You can’t eat the way you did when you were twenty. Bad food makes you feel lethargic and when you have processed sugar your body just craves it more. It’s a vicious cycle.”
Dedication is also the key, Ferns says. “You have to make it a priority, as important as brushing your teeth. Remember how as a kid you didn’t like to brush your teeth, and now it’s just automatic? Fitness has to be the same way, it’s just a part of your life. And it’s proven that exercise raises endorphin levels and makes you feel happy. You just have to get started.”
And if you need a personal cheerleader, her blend of expertise, enthusiasm and tough love is a great start. “I am a true believer that anyone can change their lifestyle and become healthy, happy and fit if you want it bad enough.” Ferns has a book coming out in February, Freedom to Fitness, that outlines how fitness can help with almost any aspect of your life.
Ferns offers one more tip for the end of the day: stretch before bed. “Your body is tense and you have slower blood flow. Stretching will work out any kinks and you’ll sleep better.” And better sleep after fifty is something we all can use.